Effective right now, this here blog thingy™is running on a fresh new server (see yesterday’s post about this ongoing process).
It was a rather fraught process – the data has become quite large (10k posts, right?). I had to extend the php script time-out limit on the server for processing incoming data from 30 seconds to 10 minutes (!). The blog extract file, not including any images at all, is 33MB text file! That’s huge for a text file. It crashes my laptop if I open it in a text editor.
Anyway, the new server should perform quite a bit faster. It’s got an up-to-date operating system and I installed a thing called memcached which is some software that helps php websites (like wordpress) perform much better. I’ve also got some new security features, which shouldn’t affect readers but will make my life as administrator a bit easier hopefully.
I worked hard to replicate the formatting and configuration from the previous server, and the appearance in most respects should be identical. If you (oh loyal blog-readers) run into problems or weird differences or broken stuff, please let me know.
This blog was started in August, 2004. It only became “guaranteed daily” in late 2007. But it’s been at least daily since then, and it’s been at least twice daily (1 tree, 1 poem) since 2018. Given I’m on poem #24xx – that means around 24% of this blog is made up of poems.
“A picture is worth a thousand words” – so goes the aphorism.
Today, I’m starting some necessary maintenance work on my “image server”. Note that on this here blog thingy, the pictures are hosted separately from the text. So the text of the blog will continue without problem, but there may be occasions for some users over the next several days when the pictures come up missing, or where your browser complains that links are broken. Please be patient. I’m moving the pictures to a new location and everything has to be redirected to point at the new location (this is what is called “DNS” in internet administration jargon).
Castine is an imaginary country that once existed on the imaginary planet I prefer to call Ogieff. In fact, the imaginary planet doesn’t have an official name – it’s hosted at opengeofiction.net, which all the users call, simply, “OGF”. That initialism leads to my preferred name for the planet – just sound it out.
I joined OGF in 2014, and Castine appeared and began evolving some time in the year after that, I think – in 2015. I also became an admin on the opengeofiction.net website in that year.
During the period from 2015 to 2017, Castine became the locus of a kind of meta-proxy-war, where I used it as a stand-in for a never-ending argument I liked to have with my fellow OGF admins.
The issue in question was the rule about “verisimilitude”. I had long felt (and continue to feel) that OGF’s verisimilitude rule is a bad idea – it’s vague and impossible to enforce consistently. It has no objectivity. The principle is that mapping on the OGF world is supposed to be “realistic” in the sense that it eschews fantasy and sci-fi elements, and doesn’t contain cultural or cartographic artifacts that couldn’t reasonably exist in the real world. Hence, people who build 50 km bridges or tunnels are called out for violating verisimilitude, likewise more science-fictional elements like space elevators or fantasy elements like dens of dragons or nations of 1920’s-era talking sheep (all these examples really occurred at various times on the OGF planet).
Castine was (is) a borderline case of violating verisimilitude. Some users felt it violated the rule, others felt it was okay. My position was always something like: “since we can’t decide if this violates verisimilitude or not, but it’s really good mapping… c’cmon, people, let’s drop (or at least, fix) this stupid rule.”
Of course, this was an unpopular stance. And in the long run, I lost the battle to remove or even alter the verisimilitude rule on Ogieff, and I made my peace with it.
One way that I made that peace with it, was to create my own, separate planet! In 2016, I started the planet Arhet as a kind of alternative project to Ogieff. By 2018, it had several active mappers and its own emerging community. The principle concept behind Arhet is to be a kind of “libertarian” reinterpretation of OGF. It has very few rules: no verisimilitude rule, no assigned territories, etc. And somewhat to my own surprise, it sorta kinda works. The key to it working, I reckon, is that unlike OGF, Arhet is not “open” to any and all comers. There’s an application process to join, and although I enforce almost no rules for the planet, I do stand firm that arguments or disagreements between users that escalate to my remit will simply result in immediate banning of all parties. That keeps everyone participating on best behavior, I guess.
The irony is that then, in 2021, I took over the hosting of the original opengeofiction.net. So now I host a little federation of two imaginary planets, Ogieff and Arhet, which have substantially overlapping user communities but having quite different rule systems. And I’m okay about that. I inevitably yield to my fellow admins, whose hard work and dedication to the project I admire, when it comes to matters of rules and judgements on Ogieff. But off to the side, I run Arhet singularly, and I insist on its fundamentally anarchic state.
In around 2020, the creator of Castine (Ramasham) was banned from Ogieff – ultimately for violating another, different rule: the rule prohibiting direct upload of data copied from OSM. OSM is OpenStreetMap, which is a map of the Real World™ in the same technological vein as our two imaginary planets. This is the so-called “slippy map” paradigm, originally popularized by mapquest and perfected and dominated by google maps. OSM runs on and supports a whole complex ecosystem of software that is all open source, as a kind of alternative to google maps, and that’s why it’s easy (uh, “easy” in a financial sense, not “easy” in a technical sense) for us to use the same software to run OGF and Arhet.
Anyway, there is (and there has always been) a rule prohibiting copying OSM data into OGF. Ostensibly this is motivated by paranoia about copyright violation, but in fact copyright has little to do with it, in my own estimation – there are easy ways to avoid issues around copyright as long as you follow along with OSM’s “attribution and re-use” rules. The real motivation for the prohibition is legitimate, though: on OGF, we want to discourage mappers from spamming the planet’s map with cut-n-paste copies of real-world places. It’s low effort geofiction and discourages creativity.
That said, when I set up Arhet I decided to also not enforce OGF’s “no real-world (OSM) data” rule. And indeed I myself played around with cutting and pasting some data from OSM, including an ephemeral instance of country I called “Lingit Aani” (this is Tlingit language) – a copy of the islands of Southeast Alaska but minus any nearby continent, as an open-ocean archipelago. I later deleted this, but there are multiple copy-the-real-world geofiction projects going on in Arhet, these days, including clones of Sakhalin Island (Siberia) and Romania’s Bucharest, and at least two Polands – perhaps more.
I guess Castine’s creator, Ramasham, had been doing some copy-pasting of OSM data to increase the detail and complexity of Castine’s cartography. Notably, this airport is a modified cut-n-paste copy of one in the real world, with only the names of things altered. And so Ramasham was banned from OGF. Rules are rules, and that “no copy from OSM” rule is actually probably the most common reason for mappers to be banned from the site.
Now we come to February of this year (2022). The admin team at OGF, moving to “clean up” various abandoned territories around our (imaginary) globe, decided finally to delete Castine once and for all. And I had a moment of deep sadness and regret. Despite my having leveraged Castine back in 2016 as part of my proxy war with the other admins over the verisimilitude rule, in fact I really, really like Castine.
From a technical standpoint, Ramasham was at best a mediocre mapper. But the imaginary country is full of cartographic whimsy and playfulness, the naming is thorough and inventive and culturally intriguing, and the detail in some parts is quite incredible. I thought it was worth preserving.
So I considered: Ramasham’s ban from OGF was for violating the “No OSM data” rule; if there were any other issues with Castine, they were issues with the “verisimilitude” rule; so… hey – Arhet doesn’t have those rules!
The solution was obvious. I decided I’d move Castine to Arhet. And even more conveniently, the exact latitude and longitude of Castine’s old Ogieff location was open and unused on Arhet. I figured it should be quite easy to simply “cut-n-paste” the whole of Castine into Arhet.
Yikes! This turned out to be the far from the case – it was not easy. Not at all. Castine included almost 2 million distinct GIS objects: nodes, ways, relations. This was not trivial to simply cut, paste, and upload into the new site. And further, the data quality was quite poor, from a technical standpoint. Thousands of improperly stacked ways on shared nodes, hundreds of lazily-crafted or incomplete data relations, etc.
I have spent the last week in a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland nightmare of trying to rescue Castine and upload it to the Arhet planet. I think that as of this morning, that I have succeeded, but not before almost destroying the Arhet server altogether in the process.
Without going into a lot of detail, it seems that there were a couple of relations (a technical term in this case for a type of data object used in OSM GIS software) that were apparently so badly constructed that they broke the server’s database. Since I had to do a kind of trial-and-error search to finally identify these objects, it took a very long time. I’d upload some subset of the full Castine dataset, and watch to see if the database crashed or not. If it didn’t, fine, I’d try another set of data. If it crashed, I’d have to go back to the last backup of the server, restore it, and try again. I think I did a backup-restore cycle maybe 12 or 14 times over the last week on the Arhet server. It was painful, and tedious, and immensely frustrating.
The crash-provoking objects in question are puzzling. I still don’t understand why they crash the database. And given my difficulties in identifying them (and surviving them – see below), I probably won’t spend time, any time soon, trying to figure them out. They are “Giant Chessboards” – three of them. Interestingly, Castine also has other “Giant Chessboards” (e.g. here) that do not cause any kind of data problem. They are apparently implemented differently, in their details.
The problem was compounded yesterday, when, much to my shocked dismay, the server-level backup-restore functionality offered by my hosting provider, Linode – that I’d been so repeatedly abusing – suddenly and inexplicably failed to work.
So for a day (yesterday) the world was Arhetless. The server was down. I was in a panic because it seemed I’d have to fully rebuild the server from scratch. And it was only pure luck that I even had a copy of the map data, because I was still running a kludgey render engine (map drawing process) for Arhet on a different machine.
I wrangled with tech support at Linode, and they finally held my hand (or was it that they held my server’s hand?) through a successful if stressful restoration of the server’s image.
Let’s just say, these days Castine now has a quite colorful meta-history.
I reached out to the creator of Castine, sending an email to the address on record at OGF, announcing its restoration in Arhet. I would absolutely welcome and be pleased if that person would come back and take up work on the country, again – they won’t be constrained by the rules and regulations on Ogieff. Unfortunately I haven’t heard back. I speculate that there might be some bitterness about the whole business of having been first praised and then banned, back a few years ago.
Please feel free to explore. I decided not to bother with adding extensive screenshots for this blog post – the point of having the Castine map hosted on the server is that you can explore easily directly on the website.
What I’m listening to right now.
Dawg Yawp, “Lost At Sea.”
Lost at sea
Is where you'll find me
It's got everything I want
But nothing that I need
Does anybody feel
All this talk ain't real?
Does anybody see
That the truth is in the mystery?
Could it be sweet
Standing on my feet?
I don't know, but I'm gonna try
Thinkin' up ways not to wash up in alive
(Could it be sweet?)
Everybody's tellin' me it's not too hard
If you keep swimmin' it don't seem far
There's a place you can go
Where you'll never be alone
And you'll always be free
Lost at sea
Could it be sweet
Lost at sea?
I don't know how they're gonna find me
Now I'm lost at sea and there's no way to deny
(Could it be sweet?)
If I'm ever talkin' like I don't care
Look at me and smile, baby
Take me there
I just made up this word: epistemectomy – a procedure which removes knowledge from a person or information system.
I read strange things on the internet almost every day.
Earlier today, while Arthur was at the dentist, I found and began reading a web story (or, maybe, novella), on my phone. It’s about an object that functions as an “antimeme”. An “antimeme” is an idea (perhaps embedded in an object) that in its nature prevents people from being interested in it or remembering it. This opposes to the normal definition of “meme” – which is an idea that encourages people’s interest and recollection.
So unfortunately I can’t remember much about the story (okay, maybe that’s a joke).
Anyway, I recommend you can try to read it. It’s quite weird, though – just a warning. In fact, though, the story recalls certain features of certain secret societies that play difficult-to-define roles in some of my unfinished novels.
Despite their supposedly being quite passé, I still read many, many blogs.
I really like those blogs where the authors periodically post “links” pages – they link out to various items of interest found all over the internet. The absolute master of this is Tyler Cowen, who does it every single day, without fail, on his Marginal Revolution blog: he will post 4-10 links to items of political, philosophical, economic or cultural interest. Another blogger who does this well is Scott Alexander, who posts a monthly links page on his Astral Codex Ten blog (successor to the Slatestarcodex blog) – his links are less frequent but more interesting, on average.
I have often felt somewhat jealous of this capacity to post links-of-interest this way, reliably – and I’ve thought, oh, I should do that, too. But I’ve not been sufficiently motivated to do so myself.
Mostly these “links” articles link to specific blog entries found out there on the internet, or news articles or academic papers and publications. The other day I had a kind of brainstorm, which was that rather than try to replicate this “links” summary style, I’d instead do a kind of periodic “blogroll”. “Blogroll” is a term of art in blogging that stands for that thing on side of a blog that lists other blogs of interest – this here blog of mine has one, but I’m really bad about updating my blogroll. In fact, I only do so once every few years, and over time, it ends up being just barely indicative of what I’m reading regularly.
So I thought, instead – what if my blogroll was a feature on the blog? That would force me to update it more regularly, and you’d see what I was reading. I always have 5-10 blogs open in my browser: so how about if I just publish that list, on a regular basis? That’d show what I was reading. I suppose over time it might get repetitive or boring – some blogs are almost always open (e.g. Marginal Revolution or Astral Codex Ten, mentioned above). Others are one-time shots. So, to prevent that, I think I’ll make a rule that I can only mention a given blog once. Then it would be a kind of master list of blogs I’ve checked out at least at some point in my career of online textual consumption.
So with that preamble, this is my first entry in my hoped-to-be-regular feature, my “Friday Blogroll”. We’ll see how that goes.
Blogs in my browser right now (in a few very broad categories):
“Rationalist” or “rationalist-adjacent” blogs (by my own conception – not necessarily the classification the author would choose)
The code “404” is the message a webserver gives to a client (to your browser) when a resource (a specific webpage or URL) is “not found.” It’s a kind of error code.
Most web 404’s are pretty boring. This here blog thingy has the standard apache 404: here – it doesn’t even bother saying the number “404”, which actually bothers me a little bit but not enough to go try to fix it.
Some websites use their 404 page to post jokes of various kinds, or to say something vaguely amusing. Google’s 404: “That’s an error…. That’s all we know.”
One of my favorite 404’s is the Financial Times (of London) newspaper website: here.
In other news, I had a dead battery this morning. An annoying circumstance, but I survived – it didn’t happen at the house, but rather after I’d gone to town and parked at a merchant while running an errand this morning. The car said, “404 – battery not found.”
We’ll see how it does tomorrow morning. The NAPA store here in town didn’t have the needed battery model in stock (of course if didn’t). So I’m carrying around one of those nifty battery-pack jump starter thingos, now.
The single most-visited page in my blog this year is an obscure blog-post I made in August, 2008, about a Japanese pop song I discovered by seeing its name on the screen of a stranger’s cellphone on the Seoul subway.
That’s weird. Such are the vagaries of the google search engine.
So here is the winner in the 2021 caveatdumptruck.com popularity sweepstakes. I’ve cleaned up the page a bit and added a link to the actual song, since I suspect most googlers are arriving on the page hoping to find the song.
The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste. – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)
Wednesday night has become “server maintenance night” for my opengeofiction.net website hosting project. With more than 200 active users, there has to be a fixed time that is announced in advance for server updates, changes, tests and reboots. We have settled on 0400 Thursdays UTC, which comes down to 8 PM Alaska Daylight Time (next week that’ll be 7 PM Alaska Standard Time).
Last night what was hoped to be just a regular backup and reboot of the main server, and a “refresh” of the carto (map rendering i.e. map-picture-drawing) server turned into an all-night odyssey, as I struggled with a bizarre failure on the render server that pushed me to having to restore the whole server from the previous night’s automated backup. I still don’t know what went wrong – the render program refused to restart after the manual reboot which was part of the render server “refresh.” As is so often the case with these Linuxy-sysadmin problems, I suspect something went awry with file permissions.
Anyway, it was one of those proverbial IT adventures, and with my normally very fixed, habitual sleep times, I made and drank some coffee late in the night in order to be able to stay awake to do what needed to be done, which further messed up my sleep when I finally was able to go to sleep. So now I’m… messed up, sleepwise.
There’s a less personal and more upbeat mention of the event, posted to my other blog, here, which was also cross-posted to the “User Diaries” on the OpenGeofiction server, here.
I want to record this, so that at some point in the future (years hence) I can see if I was right or not.
Facebook’s recent announcement of its corporate name-change to “Meta” – its shift to Zuckerberg’s (next) fantasy – is Facebook’s “AOL-buys-out-TimeWarner” moment. Which is to say, it’s the apex before the fall. I would say I’m not super confident about this. Let’s say… 65% or so. Not confident enough to start shorting Facebook shares – I couldn’t afford the risk.
I have configured a new service for my blog, this here website (i.e. caveatdumptruck.com).
Really, I’m testing it, curious as to whether it works. Cloudfare is a service that protects websites from certain types of hacking attacks (typically, what are called DDoS attacks), and also helps improve delivery of webpages all over the world by maintaining a network of caching servers of a sort. I want to know how it works, before perhaps trying it out on the mapping website I am now hosting – I have the unconfirmed suspicion that the mapping site, with several hundred users in 30 countries, is more vulnerable to this type of attack than many other websites, smaller or larger – it’s in a kind of “sweet spot” of vulnerability.
So I thought to use this blog as a low-traffic place to do an experiment with it.
For you, the loyal blog-reader, the change should be utterly transparent. Which is to say, if it’s working correctly, you should see no difference. And if it’s not working correctly, probably you won’t see this at all – at least not in a timely manner! And I’d have to fix it, then, reverting back to the status quo ante.
Anyway, there you have. Caveatdumptruck, cloudflared.
I associate the FORTRAN computer programming language with the 1980’s. It was already looking a bit long in the tooth when Michelle took a course on it at Univ of Minnesota in the mid 1990’s (and where I dipped my hand in it, because… well, Michelle and I did a lot of things together). It was still being used for business and scientific applications.
Today has been stressful. But stress “of my own creation,” for a change – since it has been about this volunteer systems administrator role I’ve taken on for this new version of the old website.
The website crashed this morning. In a way where I didn’t understand what was going on, where we had to take it offline and study the problem with limited resources, where we had to deal with all the customers (users – these are not paying customers, it’s a free site) who wanted to know what was going on.
We made progress on diagnosing the problem, but the site is still offline. Tomorrow I’ll work on trying to get it back up and available again.
So far the site is working okay. Not great, just okay. There are some issues.
The ActionController::InvalidAuthenticityToken is frequent and painful, for users.
Possibly related to the above – users keep getting forcibly logged out, over and and over.
The render is still playing catchup on the whole world map, and seems to be lagging around 2 hours for high zooms.
Incoming email is completely broken – possibly due to errors in the DNS tables at the opengeofiction.net registrar (and we’re waiting on the old host to fix this)
Outgoing email is problematic for some substantial portion of users due to over-aggressive anti-spam efforts by several major email providers, including Apple (icloud) and Microsoft (hotmail, outlook, live). I’m not even sure how to begin fixing this. I’ve implemented DKIM, but this also relies on fixing DNS errors which are not currently being fixed, and that might help. I’ve looked into a blacklisting of my email server by spamhaus.org and discovered it is due to my email server sharing the same IP range with a Nigerian Prince or somesuch in the server farm where it lives.
Work continues. Meanwhile, to all the users of OGF: “Happy mapping!”
I have always operated under a pseudonym on my geofiction websites. But as of today, as I become the official host of the main site, opengeofiction.net, I had to depseudonymize myself – because a person hosting a website on a server with many users in countries all over the world has a sort of obligation toward transparency. This isn’t precisely a legal requirement – though who knows, with so many different jurisdictions involved. But it feels like at the least a sort of ethical requirement.
Opengeofiction.net was created in Germany by a guy named Thilo in 2012. I joined the site in early 2014, and served for many years as a volunteer administrator. Recently, Thilo has become disillusioned (or otherly-illusioned) and no longer wanted to maintain the site. But with hundreds of active users, it seemed unkind to shut the thing down. So I have taken it over, along with some colleagues, also fellow volunteer administrators. Effective today, the site is hosted on a couple of my servers down in California, and I’m the lead technical support.
This is not about making money, exactly. Though I expect some donations to help me at least break even on the rent for the servers.
Here is a screenshot of the “contact” page from the site – showing me depseudonymized for my fellow geoficticians.
Mostly I don’t like it when people attempt “essays” or long-form journalism on twitter. It just doesn’t work, jumping from short little message to short little message. It’s a very constrained medium to develop any kind of narrative. But this morning I ran across what I felt was very good use of the medium.
Some guy in Britain decided to see how far he could go in 24 hours traveling by only city / local buses. No coaches, no trains, no anything but local bus routes. He started at Charing Cross, in the center of London, at 3 AM, and made his way, local bus by local bus, up the Island of Great Britain, tweeting all the way. Mostly it reads as a kind of “city and town bus stations of England” travelogue. I’m waiting for the coffee-table book.
He made it as far as Morecambe (a beach town just outside Lancaster) in the middle of the following night. The people following the story had been hoping he’d make it to Scotland – but he fell quite a ways short of that.